When I grow up …. I want to be a Professional Mountain Biker.

25 02 2013

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I am a believer that everyone is born with a special gift.  Some spend their entire lives never discovering their own special talent. For some it shines through and they find it themselves, or someone else might assist in this discovery like a coach, teacher, instructor or parent. With hard work, dedication and discipline sometimes these people even excel.  As I finish up the last year in my 40’s I can tell you I am still searching for my own special talent. Maybe it lays in the second half of my century race I’m competing in daily.  I was 39 when I experienced my first mountain bike ride. Prodded by the guys who rode at my gym, I paid a guy who rode named Anthony, $20 to take me out for a ride.I borrowed a bike and a helmet, wore sneakers and didn’t bring a water bottle. What for? Peddling up the first dirt path I can remember thinking “someone needs to move these rocks.” I was serious! I eventually grew to love this thing called mountain biking and I even did some local racing for a couple of years,  often wondering if I had started sooner in life could I have found my special something? This all brings me to my latest…

“When I grow up I want to be a professional Mountain Biker”

and who better to speak with than one of the world’s top woman mountain bikers,

Rebecca Rusch.

Rebecca is a 4 time winner of the Leadville Trail 100 mile Mountain Bike Race, held each year in Colorado. Along with victories in three, 24 hour Solo Mountain Bike World Championships, she has won numerous titles in the mountain biking world. Before mainly concentrating on mountain biking, she also participated in Adventure Racing at the highest international level, including the well-known Eco Challenge series.  A skier, biker and adventure racer, Rebecca has dominated endurance sports and is known as “The Queen of Pain”!

Rebecca, Confucius says “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”   You’ve worked hard to get where you are today. When did you realize that you would not be lying in bed Sunday night, dreading going to work Monday morning? 

Contrary to this saying, I have always chosen jobs I am passionate about and love doing, but I’ve also worked my butt off in each and every one.  I was owner/manager of a Rock climbing gym, a climbing guide, Limo driver, aerobics instructor, adventure athlete, firefighter, bike racer, public speaker, sports marketing consultant, coffee barista, ski instructor, event director and more.  It’s been a varied path, but all driven by passion.   My job is absolutely a ton of hard work, but it’s a path I’ve chosen so the work is what I want to be doing and pushing me toward a goal I’ve chosen.

Ever lie on the ground after a spill and say to yourself, “I could be sitting behind a desk”? 

Nope.  A desk job might be physically easier and pay more, but it would not take me around the world, challenge me every day, introduce me to inspiring people, keep me healthy and provide the sense of achievement, reward and adventure that I crave.

What are the advantages and disadvantages between riding solo to adventure racing.   Do you prepare differently for let’s say the Eco Challenge or a 100 mile bike race? 

Everyone should experience both solo and team missions.  Racing is such a great microcosm of life and I’ve learned some of my most important lessons on the race course.  With a team, acceptance, give and take, motivation and learning to read yourself and others is so key.  The reward is that when you make it through a really tough event, you have someone to hug at the end who really knows what you went through to get there because they did it with you.  Successes and failures are shared, which can be the ultimate reward or the ultimate disappointment.  I’ve had many disappointing team races where I was not the weak link physically and had to swallow a less than stellar outcome.  I’ve also had team events where I was physically carried and propped up when I needed it and the success would not have been won without my team support.  I love the dynamics and true sportsmanship that is required in a team event.  Everyone must give and also be able to receive help and the group is stronger as a whole than as individuals. A solo event is also rewarding in that it’s a brutal mirror and the success or failure is your own.  There is no one else to lend a helping hand or to blame or to offer you a shoulder to lean on.  Sometimes I like the purity and simplicity of this format, but I also feel like being a great teammate is often harder than being a great solo competitor.

Road biking or Mountain biking? Getting hit by a car or hitting a tree? I live in Philadelphia so I personally prefer a tree!  You?  

I feel mountain biking is a safer environment because you choose your challenge.  There is nothing in mountain biking that compares to the danger of an inattentive or aggressive motorist.  Personally, where I live, there are more trails than roads, so I spend more time riding my mountain bike.  However road riding is amazing and I want to feel like I belong on the road too.  If you want to make road riding safer, join Bikes Belong and speak up for bike trails and bike advocacy at http://www.bikesbelong.org/.

What’s in your water bottle?

For most of my racing and training it’s GU Roctane, lemon lime flavor.

I would not race without this.

For the final push when I am really running on fumes, I reach for Red Bull and water mixed together.

Five person dream team for an adventure race? List me 4, who’s on your team and why did you chose them?

John Jacoby, John Howard, Keith Murray, Robyn Benincasa.  Adventure racing old school legends, all of them.

When you know you’re going to crash what part of your body (teeth, face, shoulder) do you most want to protect? For some reason I think teeth, not my head or my face, but my teeth.  You?

All of it!  I want to protect all of it!  Tuck and roll!

What eye protection do you wear when riding?  Whatever brand I wear I find that the rubber ear grip always pulls my hair out when I remove them. Do you have this issue?  

I always ride/race in the Smith Pivlock V2.  They are frameless for great visibility, super light, super vented and have interchangeable lenses.  They have an adjustable nose piece for wider or narrower faces and the arms are new and improve to slide onto your head without pulling hair.  This was precisely a bit of feedback I gave them because it was a pet peeve.

Looking back to when your first started competing in mountain bike racing, how has the sport grown for women?  Are you satisfied with the growth or do you think it still has far to go?

Women’s sport participation is growing in a big way and it’s all about having great role models, opportunities and structure to support more women and girls getting involved.  The manufacturers are answering with better bikes for women, and you are seeing more female sports heroes out there, more girls who grow up with multiple sports to choose from.  This is progress and there’s still more to go.  The SRAM Gold Rusch Tour that I host is all about that, providing connections, opportunity and building the women’s cycling community.

Talk to me about fear.  Do you get nervous before a race? What do you do to calm yourself down? Or do you use this as fuel? 

Fear is mitigated by preparation.  If you have truly prepared for a race, then what’s to fear?  There is excitement of the unknown, anticipation of the day and the performance, but hopefully not too much fear.   A little adrenaline is healthy and means you are in the moment and alive.  Too much fear and you’re burning calories and affecting your ability to ride well.  It’s a control game that every athlete deals with and tries to master, including me.  The times I’m most afraid, like on really technical sections, are the places where I’m the least prepared.  Sometimes, jumping off the deep end and just trying works great.  Other times, it’s OK to walk around and save it for another day.

You’re a volunteer Firefighter. Obvious adrenaline junkie.  Did you play with Barbies growing up or GI Joe?  Do you ever find that guys think because you don’t mind getting all dirty and playing hard that you’re not a girlie girl? 

Hopefully, I’m a good combination of both.  I did play with Barbie’s, but also built forts and dirt castles in our back yard.  I wear Carhartts and dresses.  No one is one-dimensional, so it is fun to surprise people who only see me in athletic clothes by wearing heels or a dress.

Do you keep your friends close and your enemies closer? 

I try really hard not to make enemies and really, most people I interact with are amazingly friendly and passionate about cycling.  I’m intense when I race, but really, it’s just bike racing.  At the start of Leadville 2012, I had a big target on my back as the defending 3x winner.  The field was stronger than ever and the win was anybody’s.  I made a point of racing myself that day and targeting my own record time instead of targeting an individual person.  I can only control how I ride and race, so what’s the point of spending energy and focus on someone else.  I rode my own race and broke my own record again.  That happened to place me first and I was ecstatic.  If I’d had that same time and had not won, I still would have been pleased with my effort.

Do you like mountain bike skirts?  Would you wear one? Years ago I said to my best friend at the start of a race, “if that girl over there in the skirt beats you, I will never let you live it down.”  The skirt kicked her ass!

I like skirts but not for athletic activities: especially cycling. They just are not practical and get caught on things.  If that’s what it takes to get a woman riding, then that’s great, but you would never catch me riding in a skirt!

When will  you start training for Leadville 2013?

I’m always training.  Obviously there are different focuses at different times, but I’m the type of person who needs a schedule and to stay active all the time.  Work I’m doing now is definitely part of the building blocks for events in the summer.

26 1/2 or 29er?   I have an old Cannondale Scalpel. My 16-year-old almost killed it when she backed into it in my garage, but it gets me up and down the trails in Philadelphia’s beautiful Wissahickon Park.

I’m riding a Specialized Fate 29 and love it.  I would never go back to a 26. For my type of riding, there’s no question that a 29er is the right bike.  For endurance events, it’s the way to go.  I can ride better technically on a 29 and it’s more efficient on the less technical sections too.

I‘ve ridden Moab. Tell me where my boyfriend and I should go next for a great mountain biking trip in the United States? 

No question:  Sun Valley Idaho!  My hometown.  We have hundreds (literally) miles of single track right outside the door and the most beautiful mountain backcountry you’ve ever seen.  The single track goes on and on and on.  I’ve traveled all around the world and this is by far my favorite place to ride.  Need a race adventure?  We are hosting the USAC Marathon Nationals and Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival in July.  And I am launching a new event called Rebecca’s Private Idaho, a 100 mile gravel Fondo on September 1.  Check my website for more details a little later.

Both events are a great excuse to make the journey to Idaho to see what it’s all about.

Years ago when I first got separated I fell going slow on a flat and my friend said “go home and don’t come back until you’re back to being the sarcastic bitch you usually are.” I couldn’t ride. I couldn’t clear my head. 

You’re known as “The Queen of Pain”, what’s the one thing that hurts you mentally or physically? Was there a time in your career that you just couldn’t shake something that was clouding  your head and affecting your riding? 

See the attached Wend Magazine article I wrote.  That should explain it pretty well!

In 2004 Primal Quest expedition 38-year-old adventure racer Nigel Aylott lost his life to a terrible accident. Rebecca shares her story of that sad day in an article she wrote for Wend Magazine. 

Rock, Clock and Taking Stock

I posted on my Facebook Page MotivateHopeStrength to message me a question for Rebecca. I picked one.

Liz Finch From Overland Park, Kansas asks

What tips do you have for someone who is just starting out her fitness journey but wants to be like you and do crazy awesome stuff?

Congratulations on the start of your journey/adventure.

Advice:  treat fitness like an adventure!  Take part in things that inspire you and seem fun.  Say yes more than you say no.  Be prepared for your adventures, but don’t be afraid to jump into something without really knowing what you’re doing.  Risk is often very rewarding.
Spend your time at home getting strong and honing your skills so that you can say yes to adventures and be ready for them.  Take classes, educate yourself, join groups, find a posse of like-minded people to share your journey.  Most of all, just keep trying and moving forward.
It’s an answer like above that makes Rebecca not only an amazing athlete but a truly  amazing woman who motivates me and inspires me.  I want to thank Rebecca for taking time out her busy schedule to answer my questions. I hope one day to travel to Sun Valley Idaho and ride the beautiful trails there and meet Rebecca or maybe give her a head nod as I’m climbing and she is soaring down the downhill.   I will continue to search for my special talent as I hope everyone does no matter how old you are.  Heck I have another 50 years to keep exploring and searching for this gift I know I have.
“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” 
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
Please checkout a special cause Rebecca is part of. World Bicycle Relief.  Check out this video and learn more about this program http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdzXrjag7Fg

Have the courage to follow your dreams. It’s the first step towards

attaining your destiny.

– Nikita Koloff

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